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'Failed PR stunt': House opposition criticizes Duterte admin's ASEAN hosting

MANILA, Philippines – Despite apparently hitting most of its priority economic deliverables, House opposition members criticized the Philippines’ hosting of the recently-concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits, calling at a “failed PR stunt” and a “monstrous and glitzy photo op” that made use of Filipino taxpayers’ money.

“The ASEAN Summit was a failed PR stint out to project the Duterte administration as a leader of a regional bloc that enjoys high economic growth and an important market for global capital,” said Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin on November 15, Wednesday, when asked for an assessment of the recently-concluded summit of the regional bloc and its close allies.

The Philippines has played host to the ASEAN Summit the entire year.

Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice even criticized the way Duterte wore the traditional barong, noting that his “sloppy way” of wearing it “is something that downgrades the image of a Filipino leader.”

Villarin and Erice are members of the independent minority bloc of the House. They, along with a separate independent minority bloc composed of lawmakers from progressive groups, constitute the House opposition.

The opposition, in particular, criticized the regional bloc’s silence on human rights issues – violence against the Rohingya Myanmar and the killing linked to Duterte’s bloody drug war in the Philippines.

“ASEAN chose to ignore its socio political mandates of promoting Human Rights,” said Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat, a board member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. (READ: ASEAN leaders sign commitment protecting migrant workers)

“State leaders have adopted a sort of diplomatic silence on the human rights abuse and EJKs under Duterte's war on drugs considering that Duterte becomes sensitive when that issue is brought up,” observed Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano. (READ: The Deafening Silence of ASEAN on Human Rights Violations)

Alejano, however, thanked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and “to some extent,” United States President Donald Trump for at least mentioning Duterte’s drug war in formal bilateral meetings, statements, or chance conversations on the sidelines of the summit.

Villarin said the over P15 billion spent to host the ASEAN was seemingly wasted. He criticized the “ASEAN way” of ignoring human rights and other contentious issues such as territorial claims against global power house China. Although China is not a member of ASEAN, it joins the gathering during the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN-China Summit, to name a few.

Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang attended the summits in Manila.

“Sovereignty issues like our claims over the WPS are swept under the rug so as not to antagonize a bully in the region, China, from which we want to get an economic bonanza,” said Villarin. It was during the ASEAN-China summit that leaders agreed to beginning talks on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

Duterte himself said the summit exhausted him. As ASEAN chair, he opened almost all of the summits during the event. On the sidelines, he also held bilateral meetings with other countries. – Rappler.com